noir / shaviro

"But then all writers were bastards. Must come with the territory, McNihil figured." (233)

McNihilism... : K.W. Jeter's Noir (Bantam, 1998).

"'...turd in a can'; so it's a formulation of the ultimate capitalist drive, to always deliver less than what the customer believes he's paying for. So what?" Harrisch could hear his voice tensing with righteous indignation. "That's what people like me are supposed to do. In the marketplace, at least, rape is the natural order of things. And remarkably popular, too, on both sides of the exchange. People hand over their money, they lives, to DynaZauber or any other corporation, they know what they're getting. They want to get connected; the customers are always bottoms looking to get topped, the harder and bloodier, the better. That's the dirty little secret that corporations know. The successful ones, that is." (314-315)

"You're looking at the future here, pal; the future and the present and the past, all rolled up into one. The goal of commerce is to destroy history, to put its customers into the eternal Now, the big happy theme park of desires that are always at the brink of satisfaction but somehow never get there. Because if they did, the game would be over and everybody would go home. They might even move back inside their own heads and boot the happy corporations out." (380)

Steven Shaviro's Connected (see Abe's post on the book) performs a sweet manoeuvre on this dystopian sci-fi potboiler, drawing out the subterfuge in K.W. Jeter's Noir, which despite its obvious debt to the noir as a genre, and as a metaphor, plot structure, character base and study--almost everything--misses the touch of the noir classics. The noir remix is somewhat stillborn too (Foucault and Derrida are name-dropped, for example--where is the mystery? The atmosphere is heavy, the unpredictable isn't). The work seems purely on the surface--the writing structure itself remains conventional and obvious. This isn't no Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but I was hoping for at least a touch of William Gibson, if not Pynchon. Gibson is certainly the better stylist, and Jeter if anything samples his ideas from every angle of sci-fi, not to mention the general unpleasant taste of Orwell's 1984 (there are many memes here amped in differential proportions--such as detailed biosurgery and implants--as well as odd distortions: characters still carry cellphones when email is holographic, for instance). True, the book is a mid-90s gem, and perhaps encodes the more vicious programming in its implications concerning copyright than anything (that the only suitable punishment for infringement is death). Capitalism has led to the disastrous hellscape these characters embody--or disembody--in a kind of urban apocalyptic nightmare, "metastasis cities" and the permanent homeless, the living dead (barely alive to pay their bills--even death is a no exit), internet religious cults and rented cops, lifted from a strange line of descent of sci-fi doomsday scenarios, here rendered as operational business in a wastezone of the West Coast "rim of fire"... For Jeter wrote the Blade Runner sequels, from the film based on Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Los Angeles is the same city as in Dick's imaginary and also the centre to Jeter's Noir, along with Seattle, which also figures in Do Androids...). And in many ways, Ridley Scott's adaptation owes more to Gibson--even though Neuromancer appeared after the film--than Dick. Our hero McNihil's apartment is almost a written reconstruction of Ridley and designer Syd Mead's take on Deckard's (and the character of McNihil himself somewhere between Harrison Ford and Arnie).

Worth reading, if not for the construction, presentation and style, but for the bullet listing of concepts that arise from the logical extension of unbridled corporate control (all of which--content and form--are heavily indebted--or, as McNihil would recognise, indeadted to other writers and filmmakers--just like the Blade Runner "clomes"). The ending, a textbook noir explain-the-book moment, lacks the twists and turns that delight the elegance of, say, The Maltese Falcon. But it's always difficult to surpass a classic... which is perhaps Jeter's fine point concerning McNihil's "noir" eye implants that render his sight like the films of the German Expressionists: that if you can't actually live it, or perhaps write it, at least overlay it and implant it well enough, like some kind of metaphysical wallpaper.

In terms of Shaviro, he also better executes a process argued for in his own crossover scholarly/cybertheory text, Connected: the copy, at least in this case, is better than the original (and so work should be available in the public domain, for creative reuse). Shaviro's citation and commentary remixes Jeter against the doomsday copyright control gone cancerous in Noir--and does so by angling Jeter's reused concepts toward productive scenarios. Which is to say that Connected is often the better read.

(Shaviro's moved to Detroit: good luck out there).

posted. Wed - July 28, 2004 @ 12:16 AM           |